How to Cultivate Creativity as a Sleep-Deprived Parent

Instead of waiting until the kids move out

Photo by Cynthia Marinakos.

It’s a known fact: creative problem solving happens through sleep.

Yet there has to be more to it. There has to be more to cling onto. Because if not — if creativity happens only by having a whole lot of good sleep — I am screwed.

If I wait until creativity strikes, if I wait until I feel refreshed, and relaxed, and inspired, like when I was a single backpacker who wrote poetry by sunset at the top of the Empire State Building or after a delicious poolside massage under the light of a full moon in Thailand…

If I waited for these lovely, inspiring, carefree moments, I’d be writing as sporadically as my daughter makes her bed.

So instead, I’m dragging creativity out from under the rainbow.

I’ve decided to accept where I am in life at this moment.

To stop looking over my shoulder with envy at the freedoms of singledom and childlessness.

To accept that sleep deprivation may indeed be eating my brain.

To quit wishing for a time machine to transport me to a time where sleep is a given more than a luxury. A time where I can eat without once having to yell “stay on the chair”.

A time where we don’t have to spend 3 hours cleaning bits of pineapple and banana from my cousin’s little red VW because “hurry up and eat” meant swallowing her food whole and then projectile vomiting all of it onto the roof, vents, pretty much everywhere inside of the car (except inside the glove box).

Here are 5 ways to cultivate creativity as a sleep-deprived, run-off-your-feet parent:

Sing like no-one is listening. Photo: Pixabay (Jordan-Al).

1. Sing

Kids have the most incredible singing voices. Their complete inhibition and pure innocence woven into their infectious passion and joy for life are one of the most amazing things you’ll ever hear — off key and all.

In the shower. In bed. At nonna’s house. In the middle of the shopping centre. With or without an audience, kids aren’t afraid to let it out.

We giggle and Shhh them at the same time because we’re delighted, proud, and worried that they’re being too noisy.

You see we’re damn embarrassed to do the same, yet we think, “Oh screw it, give them some entertainment, everyone needs to lighten up a little. Life can get so bloody boring and predictable.”

Parents, let it all out. Let’s sing off key with our munchkins — singing together is a proven way to more health, happiness, intelligence — and creativity.

Creativity is seeing what everyone has seen, thinking what no-one else has thought. Photo: Pexels (sky).

2. Ask

“Why don’t we all live on space?”

“What are your teeth yellow?”

“Why can’t we feed the joeys in their mum’s pouch?”

Why mum? Why? But why? WHy? WHY?!?!!!

So many insightful, awkward, and infuriating questions. Usually at the most inconvenient moments.

As we get older, we apparently get wiser. We’ve experienced more in life, in our work, in our relationships, so we naturally know more about how everything works. There’s no need to ask ‘Why?’ as much.

Or is there?

When we stop asking, we stop learning.

When we stop asking, we get bored.

When we stop asking, we get comfortable.

Bored. Stuck in a rut.

Angry at anyone or anything that threatens to invade our comfort zone.

We’re bounded by the shackles of our own egos.

Asking “why?” 5 times is a helpful practice. It’s a great way to improve the way things are done. To stumble across new ideas. To throw out bad ideas.

The 5 Whys method is part of the Toyota Production System. It was developed by Sakichi Toyoda, a Japanese inventor and industrialist.

“The basis of Toyota’s scientific approach is to ask why five times whenever we find a problem … By repeating why five times, the nature of the problem as well as its solution becomes clear.” Taiichi Ohno

The most intelligent (and humble) people are not the ones who think they know.

The most intelligent people are the ones who know what they don’t know and know there’s a need to ask.

“Creativity is seeing what everyone has seen, and thinking what no one else has thought” — Albert Einstein

Let’s rekindle our creative fires — and our lives by asking why 5 times.

Play takes us away from the pressures of life. Photo: Pexels (adult art black and white city).

3. Play

As adults, we get so hung up on rules, routine, and the way things should be, we don’t stop to appreciate the imaginative games our kids come up with.

Like hide and seek. The seeker is meant to count with their eyes shut while the others hide. Those are the rules as many of us know.

When she was 4, my daughter loved to play hide and seek. Her own version of it. Somehow she didn’t think we’d ever find her hiding under the table: 10 times in a row! Or even better, she used to ask us where she should hide.

She’d giggle, scrunch up in a ball under the table, and jump up in surprise when we shouted “Found you!”.

She had oodles of fun playing her own version of hide and seek. It would have been boring if she had followed the rules…

What happens when we don’t follow rules all the time? When we let go of shoulds, don’ts, musts, and have-tos? What can adults get out of playing? Aren’t we supposed to leave that behind with our childhood?

Spacing out and goofing off is good for you, according to Stanford Psychologist Emma Seppälä.

It helps us feel more positive — and when we’re positive, we have more insight and are better at solving problems. We’re more creative.

Play reduces stress, giving us a boost of endorphins, our body’s natural feel-good chemicals.

Play takes us away from pressures, expectations, and responsibilities.

Play gives us permission to be crazy and silly.

And when we’re relaxed and feeling great, it’s easier to see the big picture. It’s easier to worry less. To be grateful. To enjoy the present.

And set up the most fertile environment for our creativity to thrive.

So go on, play Twister, a game of pool, or doodle… have fun without judgment or expectation.

4. Laugh

Next time you hear a child in a giggling fit, stop, listen, and watch.

Notice their complete lack of self-consciousness. See how their whole being trembles with laughter. It’s infectious: I bet you couldn’t help but smile or laugh too.

Now close your eyes.

Think of the last time you laughed so hard you dribbled, grabbed your stomach to stop the pain in your side, and tears streamed uncontrollably down your face.

Remember how you felt afterward?

A release, as if you were a fizzy drink popped open, the bubbles crazily spurting out in relief.

Remember how you felt ready to face whatever life unleashed? Remember how light, happy, and free you felt?

Humour has the power to nurture your creative ideas and solve problems.

When you laugh, the neural networks in your brain triggers both sides of the brain, necessary for creativity.

What’s more, outstanding executives use humor more than twice as often as average executives.

There’s a positive correlation between humor and executive salaries: the funnier they were (in a positive and empathetic manner), the more they made.

I’ve noticed this to be true with several managers I have worked with. I loved working with them because they didn’t take themselves so seriously, yet got the job done — and were always so generous in advice, resources, and support when their team most needed it.

Years later, they have now gone on to high paying roles with much respect and many significant achievements behind them.

But you don’t even need to laugh to enjoy a boost in creativity. The Journal of Educational Psychology found that simply listening to laughter can get those creative juices flowing.

Researchers found that a group of adolescents who did creative tasks while listening to laughter performed better than those who didn’t.

So parents, get your creative juices flowing. Watch a comedy stand up. Spend time with people who make you laugh. Stop yelling at your kids for half an hour — just watch and listen.

To get you started, here’s a video of Ali Wong’s stand up in Just For Laughs in Montreal (warning, she’s an acquired taste)— and an audio of my daughter’s giggle.

Movement has been shown to boost creativity. Photo: Pexels (sunrise).

5. Move

She sits at the dinner table like she has ants in her pants. Wriggling, sliding, standing, walking. She bops in her seat!

The moment anyone walks away from the table, she’s off. The moment her favorite song comes on (every song!), she’s off! Like a sprinter off the starting line.

She twirls like a spinning top and makes up a crazy, funny, infectiously happy dance.

Like she’s on rocket fuel.

A little vibrant, unstoppable ball of energy.

For us bigger kids, a crazy dance can do wonders for our creativity.

If you’re not up for dancing, a research report published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology tells us walking has positive effects on creativity.

Researchers ran four experiments where participants performed creative tasks while sitting and walking.

Their creativity was consistently better when they walked rather than sat. What’s more, their creativity continued to flow after they walked.

In the last few years I discovered one of the only physical activities that fully zones out my mind from my child, my husband, work, everything: rockclimbing.

It’s hard not to pay full attention when you’re 20 metres up a wall, your heart is pounding fast and loudly in your ears…and you’re hyperventilating while gathering up the courage to leap for a ‘crimpy’ hold that’s far higher than you can reach on tiptoes.

I can always count on a climbing session to clear any anger, frustration, and crankiness I may feel from the day.

It also helps that it’s such a social sport — the challenges, chats, laughs, and love from my climbing family gives me a welcome break from family life.

Unexpectedly, I have never written as creatively as I have in the past 1.5 years I’ve been climbing.

Despite not getting a good night’s sleep consistently, it’s reassuring to know parents can still be creative.

That’s because creativity flourishes when we’re not thinking about it — and when your mind has time to incubate. Moving gives our minds a mini holiday.

So next time you’re searching for creativity, dance, walk, waltz, climb, ride — or do any other activity that gets your heart pumping.

Our daily lives don’t seem to inspire creativity. Once we get used to doing the same thing day in and out, we get desensitized. Bored. Resentful.

I have never been a fan of schedules or routines. I prefer spontaneity.

I prefer to go with the flow. For constant newness. Richness. Excitement. Surprises. Adventure.

The problem was, I kept getting stuck in a rut with writing. In work. In marriage. In life.

Unleash the creativity inside you. Photo by Ryan Moreno on Unsplash

It wasn’t until I stepped back and changed my point of view, my attitude, and my actions, that my creativity flowed again. And my life flowed again — in the direction I was happy with.

As parents, we have an endless spring of creativity in front of us.

Instead of getting bogged down by parenthood, let’s look with fresh eyes at the experiences our children share with us — and use it to boost our own creativity.

Let’s sing. Ask more questions. Laugh loudly and often. Play. And move.

Let’s cultivate creativity to cherish the people around us. To find joy in our work. To create happiness with our lives.

Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try! — Dr Seuss

Aussie Copywriter. I love rock climbing high ceilings and hiking amongst ferns >> 10 Proven ways to attract more Medium readers: